Company bosses have are complaining about the lack of foreign manpower in Singapore, They say they have trouble filling vacancies in their companies and cannot take on new projects.
Economists warn that slowing growth in the local workforce may be due to the tightening of the government’s foreign workforce policy.
Although some companies have restructured and become less reliant on manpower, others did not make the cut and have moved elsewhere to countries like Malaysia and China where cheap labor is more easily available.
The Government tightened policies on foreign workers from 2010, with the goal of weaning companies off the supply of cheap foreign labour. Last year, annual growth in foreign employment moderated to 2.4 per cent, down from 4.6 per cent in 2013 and 6.8 per cent in 2012.
But some employers persist in employing foreign staff although they face greater competition to fill positions with foreign labor.
“It’s taking a longer time to fill vacancies,” said Ms Serene Tan, director of department store chain BHG. She said information technology staff and managerial level roles take up to six months to fill, compared with two to three months in the past.
“Businesses are pacing themselves for the medium to long term,” said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee, adding that he had seen a slowdown in the number of jobs offered in the last two or three months.
At Tian San Shipping, which has cut foreign hires by about 70 since 2009, senior manager of operations Chin Tze Chung said: “We can’t even undertake some tenders because we don’t have the manpower.”
Some smaller companies, such as subcontractors in the construction industry, close down when they are unable to fulfill their existing contracts.
Others are considering moving operations to other countries where labour is more accessible.
Mr Kelvin Ho, managing director of freight forwarding firm Intercontinental Logistics, said a lack of foreign labour is forcing out many of the factories he relies on for business.
“If factories are not coming to Singapore, we might as well close down,” he said, adding that he is considering moving the company to somewhere like Jakarta or Vietnam, where hiring would be easier.